Gayle King holds court, talks tennis

Eric Schuster | August 16, 2021

As co-host of the daily national news program "CBS This Morning" and editor-at-large for Oprah Daily, Gayle King needs to efficiently budget her personal time. And one thing she chooses to make time for is tennis. recently caught up with King, named one of Time Magazine’s “Most Influential People” in 2019, for some of her thoughts on the game she loves.


Q: When did tennis first enter your life?


King: My dad loved tennis and he would play it all the time. I would watch him play and that's how I first started and began to like it. I had that basic wooden tennis racquet when I was a little kid but I wasn't very good. I didn't really start to love playing until I was in college. 


Q: What do you love about playing?


King: I love whacking the ball across the net. To me, there is nothing like the sound of the ball connecting squarely with the racquet in a way where you go, "THAT's good... It looks good, it feels good and it SOUNDS good! I always go for that.

Q: How would you describe your game?


King: I’m not very good! But I love to play. I prefer the forehand to the backhand. My backhand is very weak and it's always a work-in-progress to try to get it right. That's why tennis lessons can be so important, for little nuggets like "hold your racquet this way" or "wait to hit the ball at this particular time for the right connection." A millisecond can make a difference in this game and I didn't realize that until I started taking lessons. We can all pick up a racquet—then see what you can do with it after that.


Q: What drives you to keep playing?


King: For me, I like to play for fun.  But, I know many people say that. "I'm playing just for fun. It's not a competition!" Then that ball comes over the net, and you go, I want to make this point. Is it really just playing for fun when you want to make sure that whoever is on the other side of the net can't return it? (laughs) Is that really playing for fun?


But what I admire most about tennis is that you really can play it at any age. And when you're playing singles, you have to rely on you in order to make it all work. There is something really satisfying about that. Again, I'm not saying I'm good at it but I really do love this game. I love to play it and I love to watch it.

Gayle King on the US Open Blue Capet in 2019.

Q: Who have been some of your favorite players to watch through the years?


King: Back in the day it was Chrissie Evert. I would just look at her and say she's so fantastic and confident. And I've always liked the strength of Martina [Navratilova]; she’s just a powerhouse on- and off-the-court. Jimmy Connors; [I was] always fascinated by him. John McEnroe was fun to watch, Andre Agassi too; loved him. But Billie Jean King is, of course, the ultimate.


Q: And nowadays? 


King: I'm a big, big Serena girl, but I also love everything about Naomi Osaka. Andy Murray is a doll; Djokovic is great, Nadal, of course, too. It’s also good to see the players coming up, to see their development. Once I learn of them I want to know their backstory. Especially when I see players of color, I'm very fascinated to know where their love of the sport came from. When I was growing up, you didn't see very many black tennis players. The first one I remember was Arthur Ashe. When you saw a tennis player of color, it was sort of an anomaly. I'm glad that is really changing; tennis really can be universal. 


Q: What do you like about getting out to watch tennis?


King: When you're sitting and watching a tennis match, where your head looks like it's on a swivel going back and forth, you feel a connection even when you don't know the players. You have great admiration when you see someone makes a fantastic shot—it makes you go… WOOOOH!

Q: You’ve been out to watch the US Open in person several times, what is your best memory from there?


King: Any time Serena played Venus. I love watching them on the court together. You know that they’re sisters, they know each other very well, they know each other's game. So I always wondered, "Will one of them give the other a break because they're sisters?" But no, when they are on the court as opponents they are fully engaged—they come to win.


Q: What do you cherish most about visiting and watching the US Open? What makes it so special?


King: I’ve been going to the US Open for a long time and what I like most about it is you think you know what’s going to happen there, but you really don’t. It’s unpredictable. There’s always somebody new and exciting to watch. I remember when Coco Gauff burst onto the scene, I knew I had to really start paying attention to her.  And New York has an influence on everything. The vibe is just different; you feel more elevated. Everybody comes because they love the game. They just want to have a good time and see a great sport. Even if you're not good at the game, you like watching the US Open. You know how people say it's bigger in Texas? I like to say it's better in New York. And we all dress up a little bit, I like that! It’s sophisticated and fun. I can’t wait for late August!


VIDEO: Gayle King hits the court.

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